Sooner or later, while investigating a location, you will undoubtedly experience phenomena which will get your heart pumping. A little like Janine, the secretary in Ghostbusters, you’ll feel like shouting, “We got one!” as something happens that piques your interest. More often than not, it’ll be in the form of a noise rather than a full-bodied apparition walking (or floating) towards you. How an investigator then deals with that experience is all important. I know from personal experience how tempting it is to record anomalous or ‘unexplained’ phenomena in terms of how it looked or sounded at the time.
Two years ago, I was investigating a Victorian prison which is well-known for a range of paranormal phenomena such as poltergeist activity, the sound of footsteps, voices and so on. Just as I was standing a few feet from the male cells, I heard two distinct noises coming from vicinity of the cells, which sounded like the exhalation of breath. There was nobody in that area at the time, no-one in the nearby exercise yard and, quite frankly, it was difficult for me to explain them. In the end, I put the noises down to possible trapped air from the disused water pipes that led to the cells. I placed the voice recorder in the cell, which I believed the sounds were coming from, but had no further noises captured. I was able to capture the noises on a voice recorder and dutifully saved them to an mp3 file and labelled them as ‘2 sighs’. Anyone spot my mistake?
Well, if you haven’t realised, I did what most investigators will be guilty of at some point. I made the mistake of over-interpreting the noises heard as sighing and recorded it as such. Too often we will be tempted to record phenomena using phrases such as “heard the sound of laughter”, or “the sound of crying”, or “witnessed human-like shadows”. Investigators need instead to be much more mindful of other alternative explanations for such phenomena. If investigators are unable to pinpoint the source of a sound for example, then we are also unable to verify whether that noise is paranormal or not. Labelling phenomena as “crying” or in my case, “sighing” has the psychological affect of essentially confirming paranormal activity when the true source of the sound may be anything but.
In my case, I was unable to verify that the noises were an exhalation of breath, sighing or anything paranormal but that didn’t stop me from labelling it as such. Why? Was it that my desire for paranormal activity to be present took precedence over rational alternative explanations? Well, no. I certainly didn’t jump to those conclusions at the time. I was as skeptical about the source of the noise then as I am now. In truth, I was unable to locate the source of the noises made. Noises which could quite reasonably have been made by waterpipes, a draft, natural structural noises or sounds from the exterior of the building itself.
Too often paranormal investigators fall into such similar traps. It is one thing that the general public might interpret natural phenomena as being paranormal (orb photography anyone?), but it is quite another for paranormal investigators to do likewise. Not only do we need to consider alternative explanations but we also need to be as mindful when recording and labelling anything captured as ‘evidence’ of the paranormal.